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magnetic therapy research >Magnetic bracelets for arthritis

Magnetic therapy research

Randomised controlled trial of magnetic bracelets for relieving pain in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee - Dr Tim Harlow (Dec 2004)


Objective: To determine the effectiveness of commercially available magnetic bracelets for pain control in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee.
Design: Randomised, placebo controlled trial with three parallel groups.
Setting: Five rural general practices.
Participants: 194 men and women aged 45-80 years with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee.
Intervention: Wearing a standard strength static bipolar magnetic bracelet, a weak magnetic bracelet, or a non-magnetic (dummy) bracelet for 12 weeks.
Main outcome measures: Change in the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities osteoarthritis lower limb pain scale (WOMAC A) after 12 weeks, with the primary comparison between the standard and dummy groups. Secondary outcomes included changes in WOMAC B and C scales and a visual analogue scale for pain.
Results: Mean pain scores were reduced more in the standard magnet group than in the dummy group (mean difference 1.3 points, 95% confidence interval 0.05 to 2.55. Self reported blinding status did not affect the results. The scores for secondary outcome measures were consistent with the WOMAC A scores.
Conclusion: Pain from osteoarthritis of the hip and knee decreases when wearing magnetic bracelets. It is uncertain whether this response is due to specific or non-specific (placebo) effects.

    Some studies of permanent static magnets have found significant pain reduction whereas others reported no effect. Major differences exist in the type and strength of magnets used, the conditions treated, and treatment times. There are also methodological concerns about small sample size and difficulties in maintaining blinding. We therefore aimed to conduct an adequately powered trial testing the hypothesis that magnetic bracelets, as used in the consumer market, reduce pain in osteoarthritis of the hip and knee.

Participants and methods

    Between December 2001 and December 2003, we recruited 194 participants aged 45-80 years with osteoarthritis of the hip or knee from five rural general practices in Mid Devon (see bmj.com). Osteoarthritis was diagnosed by a consultant (orthopaedic surgeon or rheumatologist) or a general practitioner, and we sought confirmatory radiological evidence for participants who had none recorded in their general practice notes. Participants had to score 8-20 points on the Western Ontario and McMaster Universities osteoarthritis index (WOMAC A) on entry. We excluded people with a cardiac pacemaker, current magnetic bracelet, surgery to the index joint (excluding arthroscopy), or haemophilia and women who were pregnant or breast feeding


    We found evidence of a beneficial effect of magnetic wrist bracelets on the pain of osteoarthritis of the hip and knee. Self reported unblinding to treatment group did not substantially affect the results. Although there were problems with the weak magnets, a per-specification analysis suggested (but could not confirm) a specific effect of magnetic bracelets over and above placebo. Other reasons for suspecting a specific effect are that the data on belief show a low level of unblinding in the dummy group and the data on individual responses (table 4) show that more people achieve high levels of improvement in the standard magnet group. The results for two of the secondary outcome measures (WOMAC C and visual analogue pain scores) were consistent with this pattern. No change was seen in WOMAC B score, but this measure has been found to lack sensitivity.
    The findings are consistent with previous studies on magnetic therapies and pain. Studies that have failed to show an effect on pain generally used weaker magnets (19 to 50 mTesla). Studies that have shown an effect used stronger magnets (47 to 180 mTesla), which were comparable with our standard strength magnets. Together these findings suggest that field strength is important.

    This most recent piece of research has been the most positive of all. The UK has long awaited a UK based clinical trial and since the results of Dr Tim Harlow’s research magnetic therapy awareness has increased dramatically. The results were published in Many national newspapers including The Independent, The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Mirror. Coverage of the study has also been shown on the BBC.

    At last we have a UK doctor led trial that proves the positive benefits of magnetic devices. The study was cited in the December 2004 edition of the British Medical Journal. Many GP’s and arthritis specialists are beginning to realise the potential of magnets. They are cheaper than prescribing painkillers, they do not have any of the harmful side effects of many medications and they are as effective and in many cases more effective than painkilling medications.
    Dr Tim Harlow recommended further study of magnets over a longer period of time to determine the longevity of the results, hopefully once these further tests have been completed we will see doctors beginning to prescribe medical magnets along side traditional treatments.

Tim Harlow, general practitioner1, Colin Greaves, research fellow2, Adrian White, senior research fellow3, Liz Brown, research assistant4, Anna Hart, statistician5, Edward Ernst, professor of complementary medicine4

1 College Surgery, Cullompton, Devon EX15 1TG, 2 Peninsula Medical School (Primary Care), Exeter EX2 5DW, 3 Peninsula Medical School, Tamar Science Park, Plymouth PL6 8BX, 4 Peninsula Medical School (Complementary Medicine), Exeter EX2 4NT, 5 Lancashire School of Health and Postgraduate Medicine, University of Central Lancashire, Preston PR1 2HE

Correspondence to: T Harlow, Hospiscare, Dryden Road, Exeter EX2 5JJ timharlow@eclipse.co.uk

magnetic therapy research >Magnetic bracelets for arthritis

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